Session Notes

What We Will Learn Today

  1. The 'Basic Reliability' of the New Testament
  2. Where are the signatures?
  3. Confidence in Document Dates
  4. Non-Biblical Author Support


  1. So much of our historical argument for Christianity is the Integrity of the New Testament
  2. The literature on this is expansive, since there are so many ways to approach it
  3. Since the 18th century, there has been an ‘academic’ discussion going on about the historical Jesus
  4. When we get to the 1990s, that academic debate reaches a popular audience
    1. Especially with the Jesus Seminar, with their texts that includes over a dozen articles
  5. Another popular critic is Bart Ehrman, Author of Misquoting Jesus

Approaching the New Testament with this question:

“Can we be confident that the Gospels–Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John–are reliable texts telling us about the life of Jesus?”

Asked in another way, “Can a document that has misspellings, slight transcription errors be considered reliable?”

Response: The New Testament is the best attested document in antiquity that we have, considering it’s vast array of copies and from a secular standpoint, it’s ‘basic reliability’

Examples of this reliability

  1. All accounts are written in the first century, with the first document written likely just 20 years or so after Christ resurrected from the dead
    1. You might ask “Why wait so long?”
  2. Response: When you consider other historical personages, our material on people like Caesar or others, generally there is a gap of 50-60 years about the people who we know about (and we don’t question the reliability of those)
  3. Response 2: Irenaeus helps explain why in 130-202AD: The apostles were also out preaching the Word for many years before they foresaw their deaths and were compelled to write the Gospels down so that they wouldn’t be lost

A common question: “How do we know who wrote the Gospels, since the originals didn’t have signatures?”

  1. Response: Everyone in the early church knew who wrote these
    1. A lot of skeptics like to point this out. But we do have a lot of manuscripts/fragments from very early on where there’s only a couple of decades that have passed
    2. One scholar said “There is an embarrassment of riches supporting the new testament text”

“How confident can we be in the dating of these documents?”

  1. Response: It’s well attested that all were written before the end of the first century

Three Supported Texts by Non-Biblical Authors

  1. Suetonius
  2. Tacitus
  3. Josephus
    1. The earliest fragments we have of these three is 700-800 years after they wrote

Common Challenge #1:

  1. While Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John are ancient documents that give biographical information about Jesus, there are other ancient documents that give additional biographical details that don’t cohere, and even contradict the four Gospel accounts.

Non-canonical gospels

  1. Often ‘Gnostic Gospels’
  2. There are at least a dozen of these, such as The Gospel of Peter, The Gospel of Mary, and the most popular...The Gospel of Thomas

Response to Challenge #1:

  1. There are, in fact, other ‘ancient’ gospels written about Christ that people like Irenaeus and others warn against
  2. They are written by the Gnostics and mix greco-roman literature and work
  3. Gnosticism: a prominent heretical movement of the 2nd-century Christian Church that believed our salvation relied on an additional ‘special knowledge’ or revelation (ie the Gnostic Gospels)
    1. Example: The Gnostic Apocalypse of Peter
    2. Very strange, a-historical
  4. Gnostics also reject material things
  5. One difference between Canonical Gospels and Gnostic Gospels
    1. The Canonical Gospel writers didn’t ‘sign’ their gospels, whereas the Gnostic Gospels forged ‘signatures’ of the Apostles to gain credibility
  6. Addressing Allegations in Textual Criticism

Challenge #2: Matthew Mark Luke and John are our earliest source material on the life of Jesus. But if we had the original autographs of these accounts, we would be in a much better position, in terms of our confidence, about what Jesus said and did.

  1. Bart Ehrman’s argument: When you compare all of the thousands of copies and variants of the manuscripts, there are more than 20,000 variants–more errors than there are words, when we compare them side-by-side


  1. That is a true claim, which can come as a surprise
  2. But the follow-up question is most important: What is the character of these variants?
  3. We expect variants in the text because human scribes make errors
      1. If there were no errors, we would be suspicious

Examples of Errors in the Manuscripts

  1. Mis-spellings of names
  2. Word order (ie skipping over a word and adding it to the end of the sentence)
  3. Slipups like ‘Chios’ vs ‘Chi’ (‘Christ’ vs ‘And’)
  4. In lectionaries, sometimes there is an addition of a proper name rather than just the pronoun

Two Main Textual issues in the Gospels

  1. Jesus and the woman taken in adultery (John 7:53-8:11)
  2. The ending of Mark (16:9-20)

Responding to these

  1. Some say they are potentially added in later by a scribe
  2. Some say the original ending went missing and someone tried to recreate it

Question to ask: What would happen if we just removed these two?

They wouldn’t change the doctrines of Jesus or the significance of his death and resurrection

  1. Bart Ehrman’s response to this: If these things were added, then what else was added? We can’t trust it...
    1. Our response: There is no evidence that anything else is added in at all...This is turns into conspiracy theories very quickly

Conclusion: If we don’t smuggle in presuppositions like ‘miracles don’t happen’ or buy into conspiracy theories, we can confidently attest that the Gospels are basically reliable source material

  1. From session 1, we can also make the case from there that is is also the very word of God.